Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mudslinging

In a radio interview yesterday, Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan exposed what he claims to be the new Obama campaign strategy: 
 “They’re just going to call us liars for a month, is basically what they’re going to do . . . .  It seems pretty clear that their new strategy is basically just call us liars, to descend down into a mud pit and hopefully with enough mudslinging back and forth and distortion, people will get demoralized and then they can win by default; sort of a choice of the lesser of two evils.”
I listened to this entire interview waiting for the obvious follow-up questions: Has it ever occured to you that if you and Mitt Romney would stop telling so many lies, they would stop calling you liars? Do you expect that you should just be able to get on stage and rattle off one falsehood after another, and no one will mention that you have strayed a bit from the truth? Do you think that your campaign should be able to accuse the opposition of distortion and falsehood, which I noticed you did quite a bit in this interview, but they should never be allowed to question any statement you make? Why do you consider it mudslinging for someone to mention that you have made a false statement? Unfortunately, none of these questions were asked.

The definition of "mudslinging" is attempting to discredit an opponent by malicious or scandalous attacks. If someone were to accuse Mitt Romney of being a draft dodger, for example, that might be considered mudslinging. If someone brought up the fact that Paul Ryan's family company mainly depended on government contracts, you could call that mudslinging. Note that true statements can still be characterized as mudslinging. The term is meant to highlight the personal nature of the attack.

The proof that the Obama campaign is not engaged in mudslinging by questioning the veracity of Romney and Ryan's statements, is that it is not just the Obama campaign that is doing it.  After Ryan's acceptance speech at the Republican convention, numerous journalists also took apart Ryan's statements, finding many of them flat out false. When your statements are questioned by the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the New Republic, and other sources, you can't call that mudslinging by political opponents. Even a Fox News reporter said Paul Ryan's convention speech represented "an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech," so you can't dismiss these charges as media bias either.

Ryan's interview yesterday continued a pattern of behavior by the Romney campaign. Here is how they employ the technique: First, they endlessly repeat some basic distortions about their opponents' record (the Medicare lie, the welfare lie, the "you didn't build that" lie, etc.). Then they make stuff up about their own positions, such as how they can make their tax plan work without increasing the burden on the middle class. When the Obama campaign dares to question the veracity of these statements, they accuse the president of running a dirty campaign. But they never respond to the merits of the questions. They just keep repeating the same falsehoods and claim they are true. Finally, they act outraged when the Obama campaign dares to attack Romney's record at Bain Capital or asks to see his tax returns.

The basic technique comes right out of the Karl Rove playbook. But if they are going to accuse the other side of mudslinging, they should at least admit that their side has been right there in the mud pit all along.

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